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Plasterers - Mesothelioma Risks

Construction was made easier with the advent of drywall, spray-on insulation, and plasters that dried quickly. However, easier did not always mean better.

Asbestos did not always carry the stigma it does today. Throughout much of the twentieth century, it was seen as a wonder-material, a strong, durable fiber that resisted heat, fire, and electricity to improve the structural standing of buildings and serve as a fireproofing agent in insulation and machinery. Manufacturers used it in thousands of consumer products, from aprons to toasters. The United States Navy even mandated its use in building ships, using it to insulate pipes and prevent on-board fires. For builders, asbestos was used to augment materials, making drywall fireproof, creating spray-on insulators, and keeping machines from overheating. Plasterers especially were at risk as the compounds they used served a variety of purposes, all of which required asbestos.

However, workers began complaining of breathing difficulties and respiratory ailments. It was discovered that asbestos is one of the main causes of a number of pleural diseases, including the rare but aggressive cancer mesothelioma. Instead of taking precautionary measures, however, the corporations that ran these studies kept the information to themselves. Decades passed before the general workforce became aware of the dangers posed by the substances they handled each day. In the 1970s, the United States justice system began to see its first asbestos law suits, charges of negligence on the part of employers. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency finally passed the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Law, effectively ending the use of asbestos in American manufacturing. However, it was overturned in 1991, and manufacturers once again began using the deadly mineral, though in much smaller amounts and under much greater regulation.

The danger to plasterers was much more dangerous than it was to those who inhabited the buildings with asbestos because the fiber is not dangerous when undisturbed. However, when it is being worked with, repaired, or even removed, it needs to be handled carefully. This is because asbestos fibers can become airborne. When breathed in, the microscopic particles, which can be long and needlelike or curly in shape, become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the lungs, allowing them to expand and contract. When the mesothelium is unable to do its job, breathing becomes difficult.

Symptoms of mesothelioma - difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, chest pains, fatigue - may take years or even decades to develop, making diagnosis difficult. And because there is no cure for the disease, doctors generally perform palliative treatments designed to comfort the patient and relieve painful symptoms. Surgery can be used to remove the tumor, but the location of the growth relative to the lungs, as well as the general health of the patient - most mesothelioma patients cannot handle such an invasive procedure - make it a difficult and infrequently used option. Other common methods include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which used drugs and powerful X-rays, respectively, to combat cancerous cells and slow the spread of the disease.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013